Good Concepts, Broken Combat – The Culling Preview
*Based upon closed alpha build – no mention of visuals due to the nature of the build*
The Culling sounds like a lot of fun. Dropping players into a Battle Royale situation, complete with its own map, it should be brilliant fun. Unfortunately the whole thing falls flat on its face. When the initial announcement trailer dropped, The Culling suggested it would be a chaotic, slightly comical, murderfest. The actual gameplay is leaning towards frustrating more than anything else.
At its core, the game tries to accumulate all of the popular themes and tricks seen in games like H1Z1 and DayZ. Crafting, trapping and hunting, it’s all there but in a pretty hollow format. Players drop into a large island, with other players scattered around, and are left to their own devices. The goal is to be the last player alive, and that’s where the problems start.
In order to win, players will have to kill at least one other player. Slaying the competition can be done in various ways, primarily through melee combat. Axes, fists, knives and spears are just a few of the melee options at hand, all of them are frustrating to use. For a game that consists heavily of melee combat, the actual combat system is awful.
Hit detection feels none existent, with most encounters turning into the wild random swings. It never feels satisfying or even calculated, cheapening the attempts at incorporating a block system. Left clicks result in attacks, while right clicks cause the player to block…kind of. Blocking enemy attacks often felt fruitless, with damage still managing to be taken.
The Culling’s melee combat is governed by stamina. Attacking eats up stamina fast, as does constant block and sprinting. It should mean that combat is more controlled and strategic, picking you moves wisely, but it’s far from that. Strategy is thrown out in favour of rock-em-sock-em Robots style slugfests, it’s never enjoyable or even slightly satisfying.
Even upon the successful killing of enemy players, it’s hard to ever feel victorious. It’s 2016, melee combat is not a novelty any more, it’s a core mechanic of a number of games that do the style well. The Culling may be in its infancy, but this level of gameplay is simply not fit for purpose.
The Culling, much like other games in a similar vein, utilizes a crafting system. You’d be forgiven if you’ve grown tired of crafting system making their way into nearly every game, but it plays a major part here. Pick up items, combine them with others in order to create another item. It’s nothing all that new, or even robust, but that’s a good thing. There’s far too many crafting system that lose themselves in their own complexity, The Culling does not. Simply pressing ESC brings up a quick reference menu,showing all the crafting recipes.
Thankfully The Culling has a number of ranged weapons on offer. Blow guns and bows form the most basic of options, doing little. Fire arms are, as you’d expect, a game changer. Whoever gets their hands on a gun is probably going to win the game, it’s that simple. It’s understandable that fire arms should be the best weapon in the game, but their influence is a little too strong to keep games genuinely competitive.
Sticks and stones may brake your bones, for combing them together creates so much more. This little expression of creativity supplies the more enjoyable moments of the game. Crafting snares to booby trap buildings, creating spears and poison darts in order to play dirty. It gives the game a nice touch of guerrilla warfare. Unfortunately, these touches are quickly thrown to one side as players gather equipment. Crafted weaponry becomes irreverent about five minutes into the game, mostly due to the plentiful supply of higher tier items dotted around the map.
The Culling would be much more enjoyable, perhaps even engaging, if players were left to deal with crafted items. Of course the questionable hit detection would still be a issue, but matches wouldn’t melt down to whoever gets the gun, body armour and high tier weapons first.
Crafting is only achieved by having the needed materials as well as the in-game currency (Func) required. Func is used to fund crafting as well as healing and opening certain loot crates found across the map. Players can use high amounts of Func to call in air drops. These drops are filled with pre-set items which the player chooses from on the main menu. The concept of Func adds a layer of depth to the core gameplay, forcing players to figure out how they’ll invest.
While this is all based on early Alpha, The Culling doesn’t exactly excite. There’s a few nice ideas spread across the game, mainly the core concept. As the time ticks down, the map is made smaller and smaller via poison gas clouds, forcing players together. It works well, but also highlights the problems with hit detection and fire arms. The first five minutes of each game is where The Culling shines. Crafting traps, stalking and hunting players, it’s great fun. Finding enjoyment in the mid and end game is a lot harder, it’s more frustrating.
Entering Early Access on March 8th, The Culling could grow into something quite enjoyable. Awful melee combat, hit detection and generally unbalanced fire arms need to be addressed. Fans of survival titles may find some enjoyment, but The Culling is mostly (in the build played at least) frustrating and unsatisfying, even in victory.